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DanM

Question About Slavery In The Roman Empire

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This is really all just a theory so I will pose it as a series of questions in the hope of getting confirmation from someone with a stronger background.

 

Here are some random bits of information I have picked up on Roman slavery. I''m not even sure all of this is correct, but its what I have read.

 

1. Roman slaves were primarily from internal sources such as collections of foundlings and people selling themselves or family members into slavery for a variety of reasons.

2. The demographic trends show that Roman slaves (both agricultural and household) were overwhelmingly male. By some accounts, it was upwards of 80%.

3. The manumission rates were very high so a lot of slaves were constantly leaving the class.

4. in the 3rd and 4th centuries with the rise of Christianity, we hear more and more talk about the rising numbers of "the poor". It also seems like this is the point where slavery declines and it also seems like the time when Roman Emperors start making laws and rules about coloni (farmer peasants) being tied to the land. I assume the last point was in response to the declining slave base so the wealthier land owners could maintain a dedicated labor force for their estates.

5. I also remember reading an earrlier Imperial account that said the poor often did not raise their children. They simply abandoned them to a death by exposure or, if they were lucky, to collection by a slave trader. This same source said that many slave traders hired people to find babies that were abandoned and to raise the foundlings as slaves.

6. Finally, I read something about how it was a common practice to free a female slave if a free man wished to marry her and he had the resources to acquire her. I think this was done to ensure the status of the children from such a marriage were free.

 

So here are my questions....

 

Do you think the constant references to the poor birth rates among slaves could be due to a disparity in the gender makeup? I mean, if the slave traders were much more likely to save male babies, wouldn't that be a contributing factor to lower birth rates among the slave class?

 

Do you think the rise of Christianity and the increases in the ranks of "the poor" had anything to do with the reduced infantcide rates? If (1) most slaves came from within the Empire (2) a large majority were male and (3) the females were more likely to be freed, then doesn't it seem reasonable to assume that such a population would quickly shrink without a constant resupply from outside of the class? If the primary source of resupply was the collection of babies left for exposure by parents unwilling or unable to raise them, then it would seem reasonable to assume that a reduction of infantcide rates would have to go hand in hand with a reduction in the number of slaves within the Empire.

 

By diverting public giving away from civic projects such as parks, harbors, aqueducts and circuses in the Imperial cities and dedicating it to financial support for the poor, is it possible that the Christian church gradually eliminated the practice of infantcide by gradually eliminating the economic need for it?

 

Could this trend be linked to the rising numbers of "the poor" in late Roman cities. Instead of these people being raised as slaves, maybe they grew up as the self-perpetuating, disenfranchied class dependent upon the church for financial support.

 

By disrupting this flow of humanity from an exploited slave class and into a class that needed protection and support, what are the economic and sociological impacts on later Roman society? While it seems like the practice of Christian charity was much more humane, it is possibile that such a practice led to a reduced tax base and less spending for infrastructure by private, local sources.

 

If anyone would care to answer any part of the post, I would appreciate it.

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Just a random collection of thoughts...

 

Much of the slave information provided, definately relates to the later imperial age. In the Republic and even earlier empire (but it was tailing off considerably), most slaves came from foreign wars. The Punic, Macedonian (including the Seleucid War against Antiochus) and Pompey's eastern campaigns brought in new slaves by ridiculous numbers.

 

This great influx, while bringing great economic wealth for the elite, also destabilized the social conditions of the masses. This destabilization of the landless poor, led directly to much of the strife that helped bring down the Republic. A prime example was the Marian legion reforms, that were a necessity due to the great number of idle and state dependent citizens. Caesar even imposed restrictions on the number of slaves that could be 'employed' vs. free men or poor citizens, though these laws were largely ignored.

 

The numbers regarding male vs. female slaves is definately true. In the age of Augustus a male slave could cost typically around 500 denarii, whereas a female could cost as much as 6,000. A female though, was much more likely to be a household slave than a hard laborer. As the Roman economy required massive amounts of slaves for agricultural and industrial purposes it stands to reason that the vast majority of these would've been male. While in the city itself, one might see a closer numerical relationship between male and female slaves, in the factories, mines, farms, etc. they would've been disproportionately male.

 

And I'll make an attempt at one answer for the time being...

 

Do you think the constant references to the poor birth rates among slaves could be due to a disparity in the gender makeup? I mean, if the slave traders were much more likely to save male babies, wouldn't that be a contributing factor to lower birth rates among the slave class?

 

 

In theory yes, but birth rate among slaves was never high. The influx was based largely on foreign wars, as alluded to above.

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4. in the 3rd and 4th centuries with the rise of Christianity, we hear more and more talk about the rising numbers of "the poor". It also seems like this is the point where slavery declines and it also seems like the time when Roman Emperors start making laws and rules about coloni (farmer peasants) being tied to the land. I assume the last point was in response to the declining slave base so the wealthier land owners could maintain a dedicated labor force for their estates.

 

 

Actually the Augusti Diocletian gets the credit for tying the tenant farmers to the land...this was the birth of fuedalism. It was part of his "economic reform."

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